“Light up the Darkness”

Adapted from the classic (1954) Richard Matheson horror novel of the same name, this is I Am Legend’s third incarnation on the screen. First there was Vincent Price’s 1964 The Last Man on Earth, then Charlton Heston’s 1971 The Omega Man and now it comes to us on the impressive shoulders of Will Smith. And yet, I couldn’t stop making comparisons to the movie Castaway, with Tom Hanks (you know, if you ever thought to yourself “Castaway was a pretty good movie, but it really needed vampires to liven it up a bit.”) I can’t imagine what an Arnold Schwarzenegger starring / Ridley Scott directed vehicle might have looked like (since this script was originally written when they were attached).

The movie veers between haunting and terrifying. Set in a desolate Manhattan, in the near future of 2012, nature slowly reclaims the concrete jungle with grass breaking up the roads and escaped zoo animals running free. Alone in this environment, we have a man and his dog. Will Smith, as Robert Neville, fills his day hunting, searching for other survivors, and striving for a cure for the disease that has left all but him either dead or changed. At night, he seals himself away against the roaming vampires (though they are never called that). Like Hanks, we are caught up in his spell of likeability and charm, the relatable everyman.

“God didn’t do this. We did.” –Robert

The movie is steeped in spiritual overtones and imagery, ever interesting considered the amount of science fiction in this horror work. Once again, we are presented with the consequences of the over reach of man tampering with the natural order of things, the same the same hubris presented in stories from the biblical, the Tower of Babel, to the classic Frankenstein. In this case, KV, the virus originally reprogrammed as a cure for cancer, instead spreads a different sort of infection. Survivors of it develop red eyes, reduced pigmentation, heightened aggression, and a sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation (sunlight). In other words, they become vampires in place of the zombies from 28 Days/Weeks Later. Military scientist, Robert Neville, proves to be immune from the effects of the virus and remains behind to try to find a cure.

“Everything just fell apart.” –Robert

KV dehumanizes humanity, reducing them to vampire-like “dark seekers”. It is a contagion of social de-evolution. Spread from person to person until all have been affected. It is the condition that everyone finds themselves in, no longer what they were meant to be, no longer living how they were created to live, and no longer capable of communing with one another, much less anything else, they way they were meant to.

Though still outwardly human, they have lost the essence of their true humanity. They suffer from a profound loneliness, this loss of existential connection, that even Robert is are driven slowly mad just wanting so bad to hear someone just say “hello.” He tries to forge the semblance of connection with his dog (Sam) and even mannequin (Fred) [which again, was reminiscent of Tom Hanks losing his ball in Castaway or how attached we all got to the mouse in that other Hanks vehicle, The Green Mile]. Routine and discipline anchor him to sanity, living in hope of finding other survivors as well as a cure.

“If we listen, we can hear God’s plan.” –Anna (Alice Braga)

Despite the tragedy, the loss, the death, the destruction, and the seeming unfairness of life, God still has a plan and His Spirit still moves among people for a reason. Posters in the background of the movie continue to remind us that “God still loves us”.

“I can still fix this … I can save everybody. Will you let me save you?” –Robert

Robert tells the story of Bob Marley’s theory on curing racism by “injecting music and love into people’s lives … the people who are trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off. Why should i?” That’s the core message of the movie, that one man can make a difference, can provide hope for a new way of living, through blood and sacrifice to defend the cure. Through sacrificial love, by injecting love to light up the darkness, life can be lived in light of hope, be it a new colony or a new earth, a quieter earth, with the chance to do things right as a legacy to that sacrifice of love. Robert Neville is a Messianic figure that passes into legend.

Will Smith carries the movie through its long silences and terrifying sequences, displaying quite the range of emotions, especially in the scenes with him and his dog. Thankfully they put away the shaky camera pretty early on. While the desolation of New York after the devastation continue to haunt and the dark seekers terrify, it is the character driven nature (as Robert wrestles with both his faith and loneliness) and thoughtfulness of the plot that bring this movie home.

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